If workers don

Time to Be All Eyes and Ears When it Comes to Protective Eyewear

Proper eyewear starts with making sure the PPE fits the task at hand. This often requires employers to conduct a workplace hazard assessment.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, there are more than 2,000 workplace-related eye injuries in the United States each day. This amounts to more than 730,000 on-the-job eye injuries every year, with more than 36,000 resulting in time off from work. The annual price tag for these injuries hovers around $300 million annually.

In addition, many eye injuries, like other workplace injuries, are never reported for a variety of reasons. So, if anything, these statistics underreport the urgency of the situation.

And we need to add one more statistic for consideration. While the number of injuries per day can vary depending on the source, virtually all sources agree that 90 percent of these eye injuries could be prevented if the worker wears the proper protective eye gear.

If nearly all of these accidents could be prevented and so many workers experience eye injuries every day, the question most of us have is why. Why are these workers not wearing protective eyewear? The reasons can vary. But, based on our own questioning of workers in a variety of industries, from cleaning to construction, one of the most common reasons workers offer for not wearing eye protection is that they simply do not like the way the eyewear looks.

Fortunately, this and many other reasons why workers resist wearing protective eyewear can be easily addressed and overcome.

Goggle History
While many manufacturers do not like to refer to their vision protection as "goggles," it remains the term many workers use. It is believed that a couple of hundred years ago, native tribes in Alaska, using carved wood and cords, were the first to develop a type of goggle to help prevent snow blindness.

However, goggles really came into their own early in the 20th century, when drivers of uncovered cars began wearing "motoring goggles." Soon thereafter, aviators started wearing goggles as well, to protect their eyes from strong wind and flying debris while flying.

Interestingly, wearing goggles became "cool" around this time. Unlike today, they turned into a fashion statement, and people began wearing goggles for all types of outdoor activities. Around the same time, a series of accidents at industrial locations in the early 1900s resulted in all kinds of work-related injuries, including eye injuries. Soon states began passing workers’ compensation laws implementing rules and regulations to protect worker safety, and one way this was accomplished was by requiring protective eyewear.

This proved to be an effective first step. In 1913, the American Steel Foundries, which included eight steelmaking factories around the country, began requiring workers to wear vision PPE. After two years, work-related eye injuries at the foundries were reported to have been reduced by 75 percent.

Design and Comfort
The value of wearing protective eyewear in scores of different industries is fairly clear at this point. To ensure that workers are protected, employers have to put themselves in the workers' shoes. Instead of just purchasing boxes of eyewear in a variety of sizes and telling the crew to "wear these," they must take steps to ensure the workers want to wear the eyewear.

This might start with appearance, which is a big obstacle. Protective eye gear will likely never be a fashion statement again, but that does not mean it can't look "cool." At least one manufacturer now makes eyewear that mirrors current trends in glasses and sunglasses. While still ensuring safety, comfort, and compliance, these fashionable styles are helping to soften worker resistance to wearing protective eyewear.

Next, protective eyewear must be made comfortable, which became more of a challenge in the early 1990s. At that time, the American National Standards Institute (ANSI) established new standards for vision protection with a major emphasis on performance, eye protection, and safety. This required manufacturers to redesign eyewear so that it met ANSI standards, which included such things as:

  • Impact requirements, including eyewear that can withstand an impact from a .25-inch steel ball traveling at just over 100 miles per hour
  • Minimum lens thickness
  • Changes to the frame or housing of the eye gear to, among other things, ensure it stays on the face

One way some manufacturers have been able to adapt to these new standards and design comfortable eyewear is to make the lenses using a material called polycarbonate. This, along with advances in molding techniques, has helped make eyewear that is not only comfortable, but also in many cases exceeds many of the ANSI standards.

These are additional ways to ensure that protective eyewear is comfortable:

  • Use rubber temple inserts to prevent eyewear from slipping.
  • Evenly distribute the weight of the eyewear between the ears and nose.
  • Make frames adjustable so that, for instance, the nose pad conforms to the broad range of bridge sizes; this way, the wearer can personalize the eyewear for comfort and provide a snug fit.
  • Fit the eyewear to the shape of the worker’s face. The common face shapes are oval, round, square, heart, and oblong, and some manufacturers make eyewear specifically for these different shapes.

If workers don't like the way they look or the eyewear is uncomfortable, we probably won't get far when it comes to promoting eye safety on the job.

Eyewear and Hazard Assessments
As mentioned earlier, wearing the proper eyewear can help reduce eye injuries by 90 percent. Proper eyewear starts with making sure the PPE fits the task at hand. This often requires employers to conduct a workplace hazard assessment.

For instance, for a cleaning worker, the hazard assessment likely would reveal that the worker is mixing and working with cleaning chemicals in sprayers or in buckets. This means there is a considerable risk that chemicals may come in contact with the eye, and—sure enough—some of the most common injuries to janitorial workers are eye and skin injuries due to contact with strong cleaning solutions.

To prevent this, employers should select eyewear that has "indirect" ventilation. The purpose of indirect venting is to limit or prevent the passage of liquid splash into the eyes. "Nonvented" eyewear takes this even further: This type of gear is designed to provide a wide, unobstructed view while completely covering the eyes.

On the other hand, chemicals are not a concern for construction workers, but dust and flying debris certainly can be. This suggests that employers must select eyewear designed to protect the worker from these potential hazards. "Direct" ventilation eyewear allows for the direct flow of air into the eyewear, but the vented portion of the goggles can prevent objects that are 0.06 inches (1.5 millimeters) in diameter or greater from entering the eye area—perfect for construction workers or others working in dusty environments.

The hazard assessment also likely will note if the eyewear should offer protection from ultraviolet rays. And if the worker is in a setting where the glasses may fog up, eyewear can be selected to help prevent this. The hazard assessment may reveal several potential hazards that could injure the eyes of workers in all kinds of settings.

Finding Proper Eyewear
Some manufacturers produce protective eyewear almost as an afterthought; they want to add some protective eyewear to their catalog but have only a limited line. Employees' eyes are too important to purchase eyewear from such manufacturers. Fortunately, some manufacturers make eyewear to protect the worker’s eyes no matter what the potential hazard. Employers should look for and select eyewear from manufacturers that are focused on safety and eye protection. These manufacturers likely will have the largest selection of state-of-the-art eyewear addressing all types of situations.

Also, it is helpful to work with an astute distributor. Just as some manufacturers produce eyewear as a small addition to their product line, many distributors also carry these products as only a secondary line. Look for a distributor focused on safety issues with an emphasis on protective eyewear. Such a distributor can be an employer's best partner, helping to conduct a hazard assessment and then suggesting eyewear and other safety gear that can most effectively contribute to injury prevention.

This article originally appeared in the August 2016 issue of Occupational Health & Safety.

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